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「米開朗基羅:〈創造亞當〉」- The Creation of Adam: Neurology and Neoplatonism


All right, cherubs. Right now we're looking at a detail from the Fresco on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.

This particular detail is often called Creation of Adam and it's one of the most recognizable paintings ever made. People often discuss how Michelangelo painted this while lying on his back, or use it for a fart joke Memes, but this has been reproduced for more interesting reasons. It visually tells a story of God giving life to mankind out of dust, which is what Adam's name means.

Now that's a big task—how can one paint God? Michelangelo chose to make him look old and wise here, which God should be since he's infinitely old and infinitely wise. But he's also really fit. Check out those triceps. He's youthful and strong, which God should be since he's infinitely powerful and should be energetic enough to be infinitely present.

Adam is stationary here as dust is, while God is in motion, stretching to give...is it life? Adam already looks awake, I guess. He kind of has a blank stare here but his eyes are open. He can be viewed as an allegory for dust: lifeless and still, waiting for the breath of life to enter him.

An interesting idea here is that God is giving Adam consciousness or intelligence. This is perhaps the reason that it's so popular to discuss the relationship with God's vehicle, here, to the human brain. I mean, this does look like a brain.

This scarf looks like a vertebral artery, and this cherub's leg was like a pituitary gland. Some even claim this section of the painting here represents synapses, which is a part of the neuron to transmit chemical or electrical signals to one another.

Now Michelangelo certainly would not have known about synapsis, but the comparison is fun to think about. He did work with dissection and knew quite a bit about the human body. You can easily see his knowledge of anatomy in the Statue of David. So this brain theory isn't entirely crazy.

This part of the brain is called the occipital lobe, and it's partly responsible for sight. Sight has an interesting relationship with consciousness, particularly when we think about an intellectual movement Michelangelo was a part of called Neoplatonism.

This movement, encouraged by the first Latin translations of Plato's work in Florence during the late 1,400's, revived Platonic philosophy and the content of ideal forms during the High Renaissance. Plato's works stressed the importance of metaphysical forms, immune to any corruption, over temporary earthbound forms subject to decay.

What we can visually see in the physical realm, using our occipital lobe, is a reflection of a higher ideal form, and in the Christian framework, it's a reflection of the light of God.

Mankind uniquely has this double nature. We have the ability of comprehend like a God, but we have to perceive the universe with flaw senses made from dust. In this painting, Adam has been given the insight to recognize higher spiritual forms through their earthbound shadows or representations.

Michelangelo also plays with Neoplatonic thought by representing mankind in ideal form. I mean, no man in the real world has that kind of muscle structure, or at least I'd like to think it's not possible. By representing Adam in an ideal way rather than a natural way, he's forcing us to consider the idea of man rather than the physical and temporary real men.

It's interesting to think this painting illustrates God giving humanity the breath of life through consciousness and a physical brain that is literally the vehicle through which we can perceive the metaphysical by showing God riding on that vehicle.

Just sit with that for a little while.

If you like the way we discussed this painting and want to see more, please subscribe for a new art history video every other Monday.

  • 「相當多」- Quite A Bit

    He did work with dissection and knew quite a bit about the human body.

  • 「受制於、使服從」- Subject To

    Plato's works stressed the importance of metaphysical forms, immune to any corruption, over temporary earthbound forms subject to decay.




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